Inside the Zsolnay Factory in Pécs, Hungary.

Bringing Hungarian Ceramics to New York

In Hungarian Reflections, Part One, Julia Kunin discussed her luminescent sculptures and the glazing techniques she discovered in Hungary. Now, in Part Two, Julia talks to WVFC about a series of unique vases she has produced using these same metallic eosin glazes—as well as an exciting group show of Hungarian ceramics that she is planning to bring to New York this autumn.—Ed.

One of Julia Kunin's Scholar's Rock vases made at the Zsolnay factory, approx. 9.5 in. high.

WVFC: You just had a major solo show at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery in April. And now you are in a group show at Moss Bureau. Tell me how that happened.

JK: At Moss I am showing a series of vases. Murray Moss asked me to make the vases based on some sculptures of mine that he had seen earlier. The sculptures were inspired by the Chinese idea of the Scholar’s Rock and the belief that inanimate objects have spirit or energy. The vases are glazed with unique eosin glazes, a type of metallic luster glaze developed at the Zsolnay factory in Pécs, Hungary. The glaze recipe is a secret, and the factory is seen as part of Hungarian cultural identity.

WVFC: Did Murray Moss see your work at the gallery?

JK: No. And I’m afraid that is another long story.

Since 2009, I have been fortunate to be able to work from time to time in the studio of a porcelain expert, Sandor Dobany, in Hungary. Sandor introduced me to the Zsolnay factory, and he has helped me get some of my sculptures glazed and fired there.  He has helped me with my work in many ways, and he refuses to let me pay him. I wanted to do something for him, in exchange for all his time and kindness.

Three of Sandor Dobany's vases, approx. 10 in. high.

JK: Sandor told me that he would like to exhibit his work more. I really wanted to help him to do this. So we decided to put together a show that would include our own work. We wanted to exhibit new contemporary designs using Zsolnay eosin glazes.

The kilns at Siklos Center of Ceramic Art in Siklos, Hungary. The center is now closed.

JK: We organized a workshop in the summer of 2011 for the six artists who were to be in the show, together with Reka Vaczi, the director of the Siklos Center of Ceramic Art, and Katalin Marosy, the director of the Zsolnay factory. The idea was that the artists would make their pieces at the center and the factory, and that the project would culminate in an exhibition that would be shown in Pécs and in New York. The artists were instructed to make domestic objects, like vases and bowls.

In the summer of 2011, I sent a letter to Murray Moss with my proposal for this Zsolnay exhibition. I thought that Moss might be interested in having an exhibition of traditional Zsolnay ceramics together with new work using this old technique. Moss often showcases contemporary artists using traditional techniques in new ways. For example, Ted Muehling has designed many porcelain pieces at the Porzellan Manufaktur in Nymphenburg, Germany, for Moss. And Cindy Sherman had a company called Artes Magnus, USA, make a series of tureens with platters out of Limoges porcelain that were created after the original design commissioned by Madame de Pompadour in 1756, from the Manufacture National de Sevres porcelain manufactory. Cindy, of course, took the place of Madame de Pompadour on the tureens. In any case, this is the sort of artwork that Moss is interested in showing. Anyway, Murray was familiar with the work of the Zsolnay factory and invited me to come in and show him some of my work. He liked it a lot.

Szusza Fuszesi's bowl, approx. 7 in. high.

Edina Andras's vases, approx. 10 in. high.

WVFC: I want to backtrack for a minute. How did you go about finding the other four artists to be in the show? And who are they?

Viktor Erdei with a work in progress at the Zsolnay factory.

JK:Sandor wanted to include two Hungarian artists, Zsuzsa Fuzesi and his former student, Edina Andras. Zsuzsa Fuzesi is an established ceramicist who splits her time between Switzerland and Hungary, and exhibits her work internationally. She has created a series of whimsical vessels for the show.  Edina Andras is a designer and recent graduate from the Sopron School of Art in Hungary, who has created a series of innovative vases. The factory suggested one of their young designers, Viktor Erdei. He created sculptural objects inspired by Art Nouveau. And I suggested Eva Zeisel.

WVFC: Is Eva Zeisel’s work in the show?

JK:Yes. Eva Zeisel was a very famous Hungarian ceramic artist who immigrated to the United States in 1938. She was a guest artist at the Zsolnay factory and made beautiful organic vases and bowls there in the late 1980s. She died recently, at the age of 105 years. I brought a very small model of one of her vases with me from the United States. Her vases were fabricated, glazed, and fired at the Zsolnay factory that summer. We plan to include additional Zsolnay pieces of hers from the late 1980s in the show as well. I was very fortunate to have met her a few times.  She was an amazing designer, and she designed new pieces even after she was almost completely blind.

Eva Zeisel's vases, approx. 7 in. high.

WVFC: So did Murray Moss agree to do the show?

JK: Unfortunately, when I showed Murray images from the workshop, he wasn’t interested in doing the group show. I wasn’t that surprised, because the work ended up being very diverse and not really his style. But I had produced some vases during the workshop, and he liked them. He bought one of them and asked me if I could produce ten more.

Ferenc Halmos in front of one of Julia's works.

WVFC: And you agreed?

JK: Of course, I was thrilled! I was under extreme time pressure to get the work done: I had about two months to get ten vases made in Hungary. A Hungarian friend and colleague, Ferenc Halmos, helped me out. I needed to make some additional molds of rocks. So he found some rocks for me, and made molds of the ones I liked while I was still in New York. Luckily, I had a spring vacation coming up, so I could travel to Hungary. I picked up the molds at the airport in Budapest, and took them to the Zsolnay factory in Pécs. I was able to cast the sculptures, glaze and fired them at the factory.

One of Julia Kunin's Scholar's Rock vases, approx. 7.5 in. high.

WVFC: And now the vases are at Moss Bureau.

JK: The vases are in a group show at Moss Bureau now.  We are not sure how long the show will be on view. The vases are on consignment for six months. Moss Bureau has recently moved from its huge space on Greene Street in Soho to a trendy new 10th-floor space at 256 West 36th St. in the garment district, and Murray Moss is busy with lots of new projects.

WVFC:  Do you think that you will continue to make vases?

JK: Yes, I will. I really want to go back to Hungary and make them when there isn’t so much time pressure. I want to see if I can take the vases to the next level, really pile up the rock forms, and see what happens. Or maybe work with smaller rocks and make vases with a more magical feeling.

WVFC: When are you planning to go back to Hungary?

JK: I am going to Hungary to work this summer, very soon. And I received a Fulbright scholarship, so I am going to take time off from teaching so that I can go back again from February 2013 until school starts in the fall.

Edina Andrasy working on vases for the show.

WVFC:  And what about the show of Hungarian ceramic artists?

JK: We are still working on it. The work has been made, and we have some funding from the New York Hungarian Cultural Center. I think that I have found a really good space for the show, but we haven’t finalized our plans yet. I am hoping to be able to raise some money so that we can pay for all of the artists to come to New York for the show. It is definitely going to happen; it is just a question of time and resources. My hope is that the show will be sometime this autumn. It will be exciting. I will keep you posted!